Australia bans Huawei from broadband bids over spy fears

National Broadband Network bids closed to Chinese giant

Stewart Mitchell
26 Mar 2012

Australia has banned Chinese manufacturer Huawei from bidding for work on its national infrastructure, turning up international pressure on China over cyber espionage.

In a move hailed by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard as “prudent”, the Government blocked Huawei from tenders for work building the country's National Broadband Network (NBN).

According to the Australian Financial Review, a spokesman for Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the NBN was the “backbone of Australia’s information infrastructure” so officials had a responsibility “to do our utmost to protect its integrity and that of the information carried on it”.

The Australian decision is in contrast to the UK, where Huawei is widely used by ISPs and mobile operators.

The company has a reputation as being strongly involved with the Chinese Government, and its shady image has not been helped by having a boss – Ren Zhengfei – who used to work for the Chinese security services and refuses to give interviews.

You would expect, as a government, we would make all of the prudent decisions to make sure that that infrastructure project does what we want it to do, and we’ve taken one of those decisions

The Australian Government fears that Chinese officials could put pressure on Huawei to snoop on networks in foreign countries – an allegation a company spokesperson has denied.

Nonetheless, Gillard reported that it was better to be safe than sorry and that the ban would stand.

“You would expect, as a Government, we would make all of the prudent decisions to make sure that that infrastructure project does what we want it to do, and we’ve taken one of those decisions,” she said of the decision.

A company spokesperson told the AFR it would fight the decision and that officials could not force Huawei to provide sensitive information about the network or traffic on it.

Huawei is a key provider in BT's 21CN network and is working with Everything Everywhere on a network upgrade as well as working with network providers on 4G projects in the UK.

BT response

The relationship between Huawei and Beijing's authorities has been questioned in the past, with the Sunday Times reporting that UK officials were concerned about the possibility of China putting backdoors into the UK's networks in 2009.

BT said the Australian decision would have no effect on its UK networks.

"BT’s relationship with Huawei and other suppliers is managed strictly in accordance with UK laws and security best practice," the company said in a statement sent to PC Pro.

"BT's network is underpinned by robust security controls and built-in resilience. We continue to work closely with all our suppliers and the Government, where appropriate, to ensure that the security of the network is not compromised.”

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